The Evolution and Role of European Convention on Human Rights and European Court

By Karin Nordin, Contributor

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After the turbulence caused by World War II, the world, especially Europe, feared for similar events to occur in the future, as a result the first written text promoting peace and diplomacy arose, in 1948, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights emerged and demonstrated as a turning point in global history. Adopted by the Council of Europe in 1950, and combined with eleven additional protocols the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was completely entered into force 1953. Today its court, located in Strasbourg, hears cases from 47 different states both members and non-members of the EU.

So what is so special and different from this Human Rights mechanism from the United Nations Charter or other treaties? An evolution of the ECHR and its court system occurred on November 1, 1998, when Protocol No. 11 was added to the convention. Furthermore, protocol 11 established an evolution within the human rights regime when the previous enforcement mechanism was merged into one single court, which now allows individual applications without the previous need for acknowledgement of a domestic government. Therefore, the new establishment and implementations contributed to the success within ECHR and to be considered as “the most effective international system for the protection of individual human rights to date.”

Consequently, the changes in the application mechanism have invited a great load of cases which the European Court of Human Rights has found rapidly challenging to handle. The enormous addition of cases mainly from individual applications has led to prolonged proceedings. In regards to the court’s snowballing caseload, some state that the most successful way to improve the court’s decision method would be to emphasize the constitutional justice purpose over the individual justice meaning. This discussion has created a warning that the individual justice function is the base and the convention’s key objective and should therefore not be reduced. Very much proven, the strength and effectiveness of the European system of the protection of human rights exist within the reason for individual jurisdiction. Namely, the direct access of the European Convention for individuals to assess its complaint of a violation is what has so far contributed towards a progressive development in the protection of human rights within the member states.

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As explained above, the European Convention on Human Rights can deliver justice to individuals straightforwardly or secondarily. The court’s primary task is to provide justice in individual cases, and it can also be seen as help raise the enforcement of protection in member states and thereby contribute to functional access to justice indirectly. Importantly, protocol 14 adds to the official part where it is not necessary to settle each application because not every application contributes to universal justice. From the beginning, the vision for the convention was to be a tool that would ensure the previous disasters during WWII and its aftermath would not repeat itself. Therefore, the central meaning behind the system of the convention was to protect global justice, instead to emphasize the protection of individual human rights mainly. After the transformation, the court’s focus should be on solving the underlying structural problem rather than on deciding individual cases or decreasing those cases.

In this respect, the consensus is that the court’s primary task is to provide direct access to functional justice and that this is the primary goal in itself. As mentioned previously, in the recent decade many developments have been made to the court’s administrative process of cases, with an emphasis on increasing the court’s productivity and protection in the long run. These changes have been met with a various range between criticism and concern, in particular, because the European Convention and its Court are considered to make severe complications upon the individual complaint mechanism and thereby have a destructive impact on individuals’ access to justice.


About Author: Karin Nordin is a Graduate Assistant Women’s Soccer at Rutgers University– Newark. 

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